Monday, August 04, 2014

Only Then Can Real Learning Take Place

I met my friend Toby through her Floor Pie blog before I met her in person. She had enrolled her daughter in our Pre-3's class, so I suppose that's what lead me to her writing. I doubt she was the one who urged me to click over because she's not much of a self-promoter, but whatever the case I was impressed with both the quality of her writing as well as the depth of her thinking on a wide range of topics, but particularly her journey as a parent.

I learned that she had experienced challenges with her older son and was there, as a reader, when she received, both to her relief and concern, his Aspergers diagnosis. For a time, then, her blogging was a thoughtful, emotional, nuanced documentation of a family coming to grips with a new sort of reality. As my personal relationship with Toby developed, I began to know her as a woman who embraces the realities of our miasmic world of gray, not willing to settle for anything that smacks of the simplistic blacks and whites with which so many of us try to paint the world. Over the years, she has challenged me, both here on the blog and face-to-face, when she's felt I've fallen into that trap, usually leading to my having to apologize to her. 

This is how she has also approached the world of being an Aspergers parent, not neglecting her emotions, but rather wearing them on her sleeve, pushing past the first layers of superficial rhetoric, navigating the "system," informing herself, advocating, and drawing her own conclusions, usually not totally at odds with conventional thinking, but never fully aligned with it either: digging for truth in the gray-gray mud of reality. For the past couple years she has applied her insight and talents by working with special ed students in one of our local public schools which has lead her to pursue a degree in education. She is exactly the sort of intelligent, motivated, loving person anyone would want teaching their children and I'm proud that her years at the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool has played a part in her journey.

Today, I am writing to send you over to Floor Pie to read, and then share, share, share, her latest post, a letter to the president about his administration's recent "major shift" in oversight of special education, which once you get through the feel-good rhetoric, amounts to a ham-fisted application of the same failed and failing drill-and-kill methods of Dickensian rote and standardization that has characterized our federal government's approach to public education over the past decade:

It's not enough to simply impose standardized testing on a group of students and assume that those who score high are well-served and those who score low are not. My son is autistic, but he is also particularly skilled at taking standardized tests. He consistently gets high scores, regardless of how well he's actually being taught. Many of my students, on the other hand, are extremely diligent and have overcome extraordinary hardships in their lives just to be able to sit in a classroom with their peers. Anyone who knows them can see that they've made incredible progress this year. Sadly, that progress is not always reflected on their standardized test scores. 

I share Toby's deep disappointment with this president, a man who I genuinely hoped would bring nuance to a political system that has been crippled and corrupted by the juvenile with-me-or-against-me winner-take-all approach to governance. And I genuinely believe that it isn't too late for him to make a difference in the arena of, not just special education, but all of public education, if only he is willing to step out of his bubble and really engage with teachers and students.

Please bring your thoughtfulness and your ability to see nuance to the issues of public education and special education. Visit our schools. Play chess and four square with our students, join them in the cafeteria, let them tell you about their favorite things. Give them a reading assessment. Watch them play and argue and forgive each other. Come to IEP wraparound meetings. Come to staff meetings. Ride a school bus.

Perhaps nowhere is it more important that we learn to engage the gray area than in education. It's only there where truth can be found.

Learning is not black and white. There's nothing "standard" about it, just like there is nothing "standard" about the children we teach. Yes, they all need to learn reading and math. But how each child gets there is an individual journey. We don't need teachers who can herd them all blindly through the same hoops. We need teachers who are dynamic and absolutely in love with teaching, who can find each student where they are, celebrate their strengths, honor their differences, and earn each child's trust. Only then can real learning take place.

I hope this reaches the president's ears.

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